Over the years, guitarist Steve Hackett has taken several journeys -- both on album and in concert -- back to his Genesis days. The most recent studio recording was 2012's “Genesis Revisited II,” a double-disc featuring reinterpreted classics from the period that is most dear to Hackett: the era of Genesis that spanned 1971 to 1977.
For the album, the guitar wizard brought in 35 special guests, making for one spectacular prog-rock event. The lineup included vocalists Simon Collins (Phil Collins' son), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), John Wetton (King Crimson, Asia, U.K.) and Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth) as well as Amanda Lehmann, Conrad Keely, Francis Dunnery, Neal Morse, Nad Sylvan and Nik Kershaw. Sharing guitar duties with Hackett were Steve Rothery (Marillion) and Roine Stolt (The Flower King, Transatlantic).
Now, Hackett is revisiting his classic Genesis material with his “Genesis Extended” tour. This time, his bandmates are Nad Sylvan (vocals), Roger King (keyboards), Nick Beggs (bass), Gary O'Toole (drums, percussion and vocals) and Rob Townsend (sax, flute and percussion). And make no mistake about it: This group presents masterpieces such as "Supper's Ready," "Firth of Fifth" and "Los Endos" with thrilling, 1970s-Genesis exactness.
"They all live the songs," Hackett told International Business Times about his impressive band. "You can see that when they play it. They play it with panache, they play it with joy and passion, and I know they believe in this material at least as much as I do.”
In 2010, Hackett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside Genesis bandmates Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford.
During his conversation with IBTimes, Hackett discussed his reinterpretations of some of Genesis' greatest works, his memories of recording classic albums such as “Selling England by the Pound,” “Trick of the Tail” and “Wind and Wuthering,” and what it was like meeting actor Bruce Willis at the “Genesis Extended” gig in New York City.
International Business Times: How’s the tour going, Steve?
Steve Hackett: Very well, actually. It’s been amazingly interesting in all sorts of ways. We did a New York show and Bruce Willis came along, which was fantastic. It was lovely to meet him, talk and befriend him.
He saw the show and came backstage. He’s a fellow harmonica player. It was very nice that we connected with him. It was something completely outside of music. But in a way, he’s in music. I think it’s cathartic for actors to do something outside the pressures of Hollywood, and with these guys, you get the feeling it might have gone one way or another for them. Maybe music would have taken off beforehand. Maybe it would have been acting. But to move sideways into music is something … there’s a whole bunch of actors who have done it. Hugh Laurie, who was, for years, on TV in Britain, takes off over here and as a result he’s become Mr. Bluesman, and I find it extraordinary.
What are some of your favorite numbers to perform with “Genesis Extended”?
I would I say from “Selling England By the Pound,” the high point for me would be “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight,” and I would also certainly say “Firth of Fifth.” And from “Foxtrot,” it would be “Supper’s Ready,” because I love performing the whole of that. I know that people want the journey, they want the odyssey that is that song. I think also “Musical Box” [from 1971’s “Nursery Cryme”] of course, which is definitive, I think, for early Genesis. It’s a series of small climaxes followed by a really big one. It’s like the act of love itself, I think. It’s a strange little symbolic thing; you know, not the overt sexuality of the Stones but repressed Victorian stuff: repression, guilt, in other words the whole of the English experience [laughs].
I’m touring it [“Genesis Extended”] now and for the rest of this year, it’s been a whole sojourn for me. It’s been I’d say probably a 2 1/2 year odyssey. I'm taking the Genesis stuff on the road with a band that relishes playing it, and many of them grew up listening to this material.
No one can say that any one band invented music, so it’s a case of, where’d you get on board the carousel. Do you feel the Beatles invented the whole idea of the concept album, or do you look at it from the point of view that it was Frank Sinatra? Everyone’s got their mentors and models and blueprints.
One of the singers on “Genesis Revisited II” is Phil Collins’ son Simon, who has a prog-rock band called Sound of Contact. What was it like working with Simon Collins on "Revisited II"?
Well, he and I have worked on more than one occasion together, both in the studio and live. I’ve been on some of his Sound of Contact stuff, both in the studio and live, and he has joined me live for “Supper’s Ready.” So far he hasn’t actually played drums on anything of mine. For “Revisited II,” we had 30 to 40 people, I’ve lost count, if you count all the engineers and I certainly count those amongst the players -- they’re the architects of it all.
We had a tremendous amount of different singers, in order to throw the heat off any one individual singer. Because the public has always had this feeling that every man in the street is an expert when it comes to who his favorite singer is. Someone will say, “Oh, that guy can’t sing. And this one is perfect.” Do you know what I mean? And you will not get everyone to agree on who is the king of singers. For some people, it will be Elvis. For others, it will be Dylan or Sinatra or Jagger or Riche Havens, in my book.
Or Peter Gabriel.
Or it will be Peter Gabriel, indeed. And I’ve worked with some of those people. And it’s been a very interesting and unfinished journey.
And what a great voice, too, singing “Supper’s Ready,” its opening. He’s got such a big-sounding voice, and so soulful. I asked a number of people if they’d do the album. And many of them I did not get to meet face-to- face until after the event. Now some people I already knew. Many people preferred to work at their own pace. They preferred to work at home. They had the backing track. They had time to get their vocal performances together. They got them in time and in tune. So they sent me finished vocals. In 99 percent of the cases, I didn’t have to do too much to fix anything, you know? Just added a harmony here and there and tweaked here and there.
But everyone, I think, realized that they were up against some of the greatest singers. And they all sent me really extraordinary performances. Stellar performances from all of them, frankly.
A number of noted guitarists also performed on “Genesis Revisited II.”
There’s a few Steves on guitar on the album. The three of us are friends: myself, Steve Wilson [of Porcupine Tree] and Steve Rothery [of Marillion]. And we were all on Steve Rothery’s album, fondly enough, so he’s got the three Steves on that too. He’s a great melodic player. I think that all of his technique is brought to bear on making the guitar sound really, really beautiful and sweet. And he’s got great control. And I think that he prefers to let the line that he’s playing speak. He doesn’t tend to go in for the salvos that most guitarists [tend to do]; in other words, falling back on technique, playing fast; and that’s something we can all lapse into from time to time. But I try not to make it a calling card. Technique, it’s nice to have it there, but I think the thing that separates the men from the boys, really, is the ability to play slowly. Rather than trying to bludgeon the listener with salvos. But I do like to mix it. You can have technique and remain musical at the same time. You see, I grew up listening to this Bach stuff. It’s tremendously difficult technically, and it’s a given that you have to have great technique to get through it. But essentially, it’s still very, very melodic at the end of the day.
Where do you think that style and that approach comes up on the Genesis albums, with guitar especially?
I try to get an aspect of classical guitar playing in there with ”Horizons,” from “Foxtrot,” and on the beginning of “Blood on the Rooftops” from “Wind and Wuthering.”
What were you trying to achieve as far as re-interpreting the classic Genesis material?
I’ll tell you what I was after: I wanted to re-record things I’m best known for: the albums I made with the band. The opening on “Revisited II” is “The Chamber of 32 Doors” [from “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”]. I wanted to do some nylon-string guitar stuff, which was kind of a cross between three different styles really. It’s slightly Spanish, but it’s slightly jazzy, and it’s slightly classical -- it’s all of those things -- but then we get into the electric. Those are very melodic phrases but [when it was originally recorded] I didn’t have the degree of control technically and the level of sustain that technology affords me now. But now, with the Fernandes guitar I used on that, it has got increased sustain. You know, there’s some very long vocal notes that Gabriel did originally on that, and I wanted the guitar to be able to reflect that. The guitar is the other voice, [he hums part of the tune]. I loved the approach.
Back in the ’70s, what do you think you were aiming for that was different than much of the rock, and even much of the progressive rock, being performed around the same time?
I’ll tell you what I was doing that I think was different. I was interested in various things that define the guitar. I remember years ago a friend saying to me, the guitar is a percussion instrument. Now, I had this idea that it could be more than that. If you sustain the note, it can sound like a voice, it can sound like a violin, it can sound like brass. Guitars are very adaptable creatures. I think sometimes you need to make them sigh, but other times, you need to make them scream, and sometimes they need to be tortured into submission, really. I think having too much respect for it is not a good thing. I certainly have respect for nylon guitar but with electric, the best thing you can do is if you’re gonna launch into a good solo, try to throw all fear to one side and try to abuse it for all your worth, I think, with a certain amount of humor and a certain amount of anger.
And not to be afraid to make a fool of yourself on it.
I think in the early days, to be honest, I probably had too much reverence for it [the guitar].
How do you think the early Genesis compared with other progressive rock bands, like Emerson Lake and Palmer, Yes and King Crimson? It’s always seemed to me that Genesis stood apart as a whole different animal.
I think the difference is in the writing. I think Genesis was all about writing. I think much of progressive music is punctuation driven, whereas I think Genesis was more about making a statement, and I’ll say that, when I talk about punctuation, I mean those comma and full stops and silences that are so much a part of it. And really this is stuff that came from Jon Coltrane way back, from a certain kind of free jazz. You can see that effect on King Crimson, and you can see that effect on ELP, who made it very much their calling card, on “Tarkus,” for instance. I think Genesis had a little bit of that, with “Watcher of the Skies,” but I think that’s really the only punctuation-driven number that we did.
And Genesis was all about variation. Also, Genesis didn’t always want to be clever. Sometimes Genesis wanted to be just plain stupid, and writing something that was a dumb farm yokel kind of sounding thing, like “I Know What I Like”; it was about the land, it wasn’t about urban angst.
Telling stories was important. And the storyteller aspect is tremendously important in British music, and it runs through so many bands, such as the Beatles, Procol Harum, Ozzy Osbourne, all of that. We have all of that. And I think perhaps we were rooted in mythology at times, the Norse myth, and Greek and Roman stuff; we had all of this in there.
While performing the classic Genesis material on this “Extended Genesis” tour, do you also mix in any of your solo work?
What I’m playing is Genesis material recorded between 1970 and 1977, but I throw a tiny bit of “Slogans” from “Defector,” which comes toward the end of “Los Endos” [from 1976’s “Trick of the Tail”]. I allow myself to do that [laughs]. I kick off “Los Endos” with another riff which was from a thing called “Myopia,” which was from “Till We Have Faces.” I kick it off with that and a tiny bit of GTR [the band Hackett was in with Yes guitarist Steve Howe], but it’s over in seconds. And then we’re into “Los Endos” proper.
I take a lot of liberties with it, but I’m very proud of our version of “Los Endos.” I think it’s a killer of version of the track, which is a melody that I kicked off many years ago with Genesis. Originally, I saw it as a little pastoral thing, a little whimsical thing, and it was Phil who said, regarding my melody and chords, yeah it could be like that, but what if we stuck this rhythm behind it? And he came up with this furious rhythm, and he was the one who suggested that it went “ba, ba, ba, bam” [he hums a part from the song’s majestic beginning]. He was brilliant at dividing up melodic ideas that I had. I always try and think what would have pleased Phil with all of this. I think I can tell the difference now between with what swings and what doesn’t. I recognize it. I went total immersion with rhythms at one point. I wanted to understand what rhythm did for music. I try to think with both brains -- my older self visiting my younger self. I know what my younger self wanted: I wanted melody. But my older self wants it to catch fire from the heart on downwards. Drums are at at the heart of rock music. We want hearts of fire, don’t we? We want to swing, but we want to kill a melody too. And if you can get, you really have gotten the real deal. And I think genesis touched on that several times. I believe with my better solo things, I’ve touched on that, when you get the exactly right rhythm and exactly the right melody. And sometimes I might devise it but other times I’ve dreamt it and woken up and put it to good use straight away. I doesn’t have to be a fast rhythm, sometimes it can be an enormously slow rhythm. Certain bands have used slow rhythms wonderfully well -- I’m thinking of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin; it’s a whole British school, all of that. I find Joe Bonamassa using that quite a bit. Joe is a great player, with masses of English influence on him.
After Genesis recorded several incredible albums featuring Peter Gabriel on vocals, the band managed to carry on brilliantly, yet differently, when drummer Phil Collins became the singer. How did you evolve as a guitarist when you recorded “Trick of the Tail” and “Wind and Wuthering”?
Before those two records were undertaken, I did a solo album, “Voyage of the Acolyte,” and because that took off, it gave me a tremendous amount of confidence. So I think my playing gained a certain amount of confidence, and my writing gained confidence. Obviously, when you’ve had the ability or freedom to no longer have to get the permission from the committee, it’s awfully freeing. I think that for every guy who plays in a band, he feels he needs everyone’s cooperation to move forward. Making solo albums of course, it’s a much quicker decision-making process. You like something, you’re into it, you get guys to play it, or write with you, but at the end of the day, obviously, because it’s you, no one is going to take you to task.
But with a band, you can stick two notes in and someone else joins in and that becomes the bedrock of something, like for instance, the guitar riff that underpins “I Know What I Like.” When I first came up with that, and played it to the band, some of them thought it was too simple, and too much like the Beatles and too much like George Harrison, but when I later presented it and Phil was jamming along with it with me, and the rest of the band started jamming, it was really a refined jam that became a number.
In looking back on all the Genesis albums you performed on, any favorite songs to note?
On “Dancing With the Moonlit Night,” what galvanizes me is the fact you have a song that started out with Scottish plain song, completely unaccompanied a capella vocals from Gabriel, and then it becomes part of a kind of hymn-like lament, in a way. And then it hits into these other unlikely areas, the area of fusion, and jazz, and this use of punctuation. But then it’s twined also with a kind of Mozartian use of Mellotron voices that give it a kind of implied requiem so you’ve got this thing that’s charging a long, like an out of control rhino, consumerism and the loss of national identity implied in the lyrics.
That was from an album at a time when John Lennon started to get interested in the band and he said, we were one of the bands that he was listening to, it was 1973, when we were touring America for the first time, struggling to get a gig anywhere, and he gave us the seal of approval. And I don’t think we made enough of it at the time, ya know? Here was a publicist’s dream, and I think we were slow to use that. These days, of course, you’d be able to tweet that immediately. Back then, it worked very slowly. It took a long time. Never mind what he liked; America had to make up its own mind. And it really didn’t make up its own mind, particularly in the South -- we didn’t play for years until we’d done one or two TV shows, which made all the difference. Suddenly one nationwide TV show could do what legions of record pluggers and radio stations could not do.
Today, you need Twitter, you need for people to give you the seal of approval, you need your website, and you need to be on every single radio station you can be on, and even then, are you worthy of TV? Are you sexy enough? Can you dance? At one time, you could bring one rabbit out of the hat, now you need to bring out 20. You just don’t need one gimmick, you need a lot more than that.
Indeed, the music industry, in certain ways, is a lot more challenging now.
Oh, for sure. But what it does mean is that there is no longer a monopoly in terms of, you do not have to go and audition yourself on TV, where the public gives the thumb’s up or thumb’s down, like in the Roman arena: Will the lions eat them or are we gonna let them live? It doesn’t have to be like that. A band can make it in another way, like the band Phish, for instance. You can plow your own furrow. You can make you’re on mark in a lot of different ways.
When it comes to classic progressive rock, some of the greatest compositions certainly came about when your guitar paired with Tony Banks’ keyboards. Anything to say about that artful blending of guitar and keyboards, which distinguishes much of the early Genesis material?
Well, I think about when we eventually got a Mellotron, and a synth, the expanded keyboard arsenal. Anytime I heard or saw an interesting keyboard, I would say to Tony: “Oh, look at that. Look at that guy. He’s got a piano that sounds a little like an organ, a little like a harpsichord.” What we tried to do was create orchestrations between us. Sometimes I’d be the harp, he’d be the strings; sometimes I’d be the brass. That’s how we tried to arrange it. I think we experimented tremendously, on creating a third instrument, and blurring the distinction between what guitars and keyboards could do. Sometimes that would be sounding almost like an orchestra of little harpsichords and very impressionistic, where you couldn’t quite tell what was playing, what was going on. And I think it was a very attractive soundscape, Genesis. … Guitars are very good morphing instruments, it’s very good at imitating other instruments.